September 29, 2023

Words of the Month - Corny as Kansas in September?

         This month’s collection of words are slang, which means their definitions can be a little looser than more formal words, and the precise connotations may seem different to different people.  For me these are all somewhere in a range of meanings that have to do with trite, clichéd, or excessive sentimentality.  Their origins shed an interesting light on what metaphors have seemed to us to express disparagement for hackneyed sentiment.
        corny - There’s a definite implication of cliché in this one, but its etymology, fairly obviously, is “full of corn, pertaining to corn, like corn.”  Why should corn be a metaphor for something old-fashioned and overly sentimental?  Its American slang meaning (from the 1930s) seems to stem from snobbery against the country folk, those who dwelt among the corn-fields and would be no doubt be simple, old-fashioned, and not sufficiently sophisticated to deprecate sentiment.
        schmalzy - Also from the 1930s (apparently a decade in which no one wanted to be too sentimental!) this derives from Yiddish for “melted fat.”  You can revisit a bit more about that derivation in prior post Don’t Lose the Fat, but the idea behind it seems to be that too much sentimentality is like too much grease in a meal.
        sappy - This one lands more firmly in foolish over-sentimentality, and of course it literally means “having lots of sap.”  Its application to mawkish people dates to the mid-17th century, but the extension in meaning could have come about through a few different metaphors that were also in usage: “containing sapwood,” which was weaker, lower-quality hardwood (mid-15th century); “soggy” (a usage in the late 15th century); or “immature” like a sapling (early 17th century).
        cheesy - This one is complicated, because while I think of cheesy as being on the “kitschy, tacky” end of that clichéd sentimentality range, it has actually had (and still has) a pretty wide range of connotations.  Perhaps because I love cheese, the metaphors here aren’t very clear to me.  Why should cheesy mean “garishly showy,” as it did in mid-19th century British slang, or “cheap, inferior; ignorant, stupid” as it did in late-19th century US slang?  Nowadays cheesy often refers to things that are simultaneously embarrassing and amusing: so bad they’re fun.
        twee - From around 1905, this slang is primarily British, and derives from baby talk.  Imagine describing a baby’s sweet, little round stomach as a twee wittle wound tummy.  Now you can see why twee, although it derives from “sweet, darling” should have such connotations of disgusting over-sentimentality!
        hokey - To me this one hits more on the dry clichéd end of the spectrum than the sappy sentimental end, but its origins are pure melodrama.  It derives from early 20th century theater slang hokum, meaning “melodramatic, exaggerated acting.”
        The fact that we have so many words for this general idea, each with their own fine shades of implication, certainly indicates people’s desire to express their judgement of things that are deemed too hackneyed and too sentimental.  Our judgements can range from scathing scorn to fond indulgence - and that’s not even taking into account that one man’s corn, schmaltz, or cheese is another man’s gold!

[Pictures: On the Cob, white line woodcut by Ame McGregor-Radin (Image from 13Forest);

Autumn Harvest with Corn and Apples, woodblock print by unidentified artist (Image from Village Antiques).]

September 25, 2023

Sons and Daughters Days

         According to some of those on-line calendar things, today is National Daughters Day.  Tomorrow is National Family Day, and National Sons Day is on September 28, unless it’s on March 4.  National Son and Daughter Day was on August 11.  It’s all pretty arbitrary and silly, but on the other hand, it makes as good an excuse as any to use my children as today’s theme.  Specifically, my children in relief block prints, of course!
        Not surprisingly, I get a lot of inspiration from the things in my life, and naturally the people in my life can be convenient models, as well.  (Consider the cat, too!)  So today I’m sharing some of the block prints I’ve made for which my daughter and son have served as models.  The first is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done, and was based directly on a few photos.  For both this piece and the second one today, what attracted me to the idea of making a block print on the subject is the universality of the experience.  I suspect that children everywhere and through all time have (if given the opportunity) delighted in playing in puddles.  Although the two children in the piece are absolutely recognizable as P and T to 
any who knew them at the time, I think the fact that their faces don’t show increases the universality a bit.
        The second piece is also directly based on a photo of my son P, and the version shown here is indeed a portrait of him.  (You may also recognize the same plastic pail from the puddle picture!)  But in this case to widen the embrace of all children who have delighted in discovering dandelions, I also made a version of the piece with a brown-skinned, black-haired child.  You can see both versions and a little more about the 
making of the piece in this earlier post.
        Next up is a series of three pictures of myself with T and P, marking some of the highlights of a day.  The one in the middle, “Story Time,” was the first I made, and in it I’ve made T’s hair poking up wildly as it did for the first couple of years of her life.  By the time I made the second picture, however, (“Bed Time,” on the bottom) her hair had gotten longer and settled down, so the second picture  is a compromise.  Those two pieces were used as bracketing illustrations for my book of nursery rhymes, Hey Diddle, Diddle! and Other Rhymes.  The third piece of the trio to be made, which is “Busy Time,” shown first to the right, was made later, after the book, and by then T’s hair was even longer.  Although the characters are a little stylized and not “photo-realistic,” they include various references to our family, in addition to the hair.  The bed quilt, for example, is the one I made for my own bed, and the kids are tucked in with their favorite (at the time) stuffed animals: P with Edwin the elephant and T with Dusk Puppy.  (By the way, I’ve posted these pictures on Instagram along with actual photos of P and T, most of which show them a bit younger than they are in these block prints: Busy Time, Story Time, Bed Time.)
        Finally, I’ve got two more examples of the children as inspiration and models, but not being directly represented.  The Enormous Turnip is a famous folktale which includes a boy and a girl, so while the children in my illustration are 
not P and T, they are generally based on the children I know best.  That’s also the reason I have two children, a boy and a girl, in my illustration of the verses from Isaiah 11:6-9 in the Bible.  (“The wolf will live with the lamb…  The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain…”)  Of course I had to portray these children as my own daughter and son!
        Now my children are older, away at college, so I haven’t used them as direct models in a long time.  Still, they’re certainly a source of inspiration in all sorts of ways, and worth celebrating, however arbitrary and silly it may be to pick a random day in September to do it!

[Pictures: The Puddle, rubber block print by AEGN, 2006 (sold out);

Discovering Dandelions, wood block print by AEGN, 2016;

Busy Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007;

Story Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2003 (sold out);

Bed Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2005;

The Enormous Turnip, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008 (sold out);

Holy Mountain, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007.]

September 20, 2023


         Today I have a case study of how a mythical creature is born.  This is the story of the lagopus, a creature of the Alps that is half bird half rabbit, which can’t eat in the open air, so it has to take its food into a cave.  There are a number of similar bird-beast creatures, which I discussed in a previous post on Jackalope’s Eve.  I think the lagopus is a charming little beastie, and I made this tiny block print of it this summer.  As you can see, I based my design heavily on this illustration in a 1565 edition of Pliny’s Natural History.  I just tweaked the rabbit feet and ears a bit.
        Another delightful version is this hand-painted woodcut from 1491, from an encyclopaedia that was one of the earliest printed books in Europe.  This picture shows the lagopus outside the 
cave where it goes to eat.  But how did such an implausible creature come to be in an encyclopaedia in the first place?  Like quite a few other magical creatures, its roots are really rather prosaic.
        The lagopus is, quite simply, a misunderstanding.  Perhaps it would be even more accurate to call it an over-assumption.  It also, like many of the other odd creatures in bestiaries, reflects lack of communication between those who write and those who illustrate, with a little translation trouble thrown in.  The original description of the creature comes from Pliny the Elder, who says that it’s a bird with feet like a hare, being covered in fur.  Lagopus is simply the Latin meaning “hare foot.”  The illustrations of the lagopus in the earliest illustrated encyclopaedias don’t look terribly exciting.  In one it stretches out its feet as if to show off its most distinctive feature, while in the other picture it does have ears, but they make it look more like an owl 
than a rabbit.  So where does it get those ears anyway?  Simple: although Pliny’s description says nothing about ears, illuminators depicting the beast began to feel that a creature with one rabbity trait must have more rabbit to it than that.  First rabbit feet, then rabbit ears, and the next thing you know it’s got a whole rabbit head as in the woodcuts above.
        What about the cave?  That’s a mistranslation.  Pliny says you can’t eat the lagopus outside of its home because the meat spoils so fast, but along the way a translator thought Pliny was saying the lagopus can’t eat outside its home.  So really, instead of a fun, fantastical rabbit-bird, all we’ve really got is a bird with furry feathers on its feet to give it a little extra insulation in the Alpine snow.  In fact, the lagopus is just the willow ptarmigan, whose scientific name to this day is Lagopus lagopus.  Here are a couple of later illustrations that have brought us back to reality.  In the first, from 1551 the feet still look quite furry and rabbity, but we’re definitely dealing with a bird.  (Note, though, that the 
wood block print on which I based my creature is actually later than this, so clarity about the true nature of the lagopus took a while to settle in.)  And finally, here’s a ptarmigan by Thomas Bewick, which is reasonably scientifically accurate (although it is a different species of ptarmigan, so perhaps the feet really should be furrier on our willow ptarmigan).
        So now you know the truth about the lagopus, and it’s always good to know the truth.  But once you acknowledge it, it can still be fun to tell some magical fantastical stories with a little more whimsy!

[Pictures: Lagopus, rubber block print by AEGN, 2023;

Lagopus, wood block print from Bücher und Schrifften von der Natur by Pliny the Elder, 1565 (Image from Google Books);

Lagopus, hand-colored wood block print from Ortus sanitatus, 1491 (Image from University of Cambridge);

Lagopus, illumination from Liber de natura rerum, c. 1280 (Image from Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes);

Lagopus, illumination from Der naturen bloeme by Jacob van Maerlant, c. 1350 (Image from Koninklijke Bibliotheek);

De Lagopode, wood block print from Historiæ animalium by Conrad Gessner, 1551 (Image from Internet Archive);

Ptarmigan (White Grouse), wood engraving by Thomas Bewick from History of British Birds, 1797 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library).]

September 15, 2023

The Prague Golem

         In my earlier post about this summer’s Fantasy Safari, there was one mythical creature I didn’t mention, even though I followed his trail.  That’s because the Golem of Prague deserves a post of his own.  Yes, I discussed golems before in my post on Artificial Life, but today we’re going to look at the Golem of Prague in more detail.  The first thing to acknowledge is that while stories of golems are ancient in Jewish mythology, the Prague Golem is the product of a much more recent legend, apparently first invented in the early nineteenth century.  Since then, however, it has become the most famous and archetypal golem legend.  It goes like this:
        Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal, was a leading rabbi in Prague in the sixteenth century, as well as a scholar, mystic, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher (c. 1520-1609).  This summer I visited his gravestone in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague.  In 1592 he had an audience with Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, who wanted to discuss Kabbalah.  With all this, it’s obvious that Rabbi Loew must have been an alchemist as well as a godly man, and that’s how he came to have the mystical powers and esoteric knowledge of how God created Adam from clay.  He used this knowledge to create a golem, which he intended to be a protector of the Jewish community, which was under attack from the usual antisemitic horrors.  (The legend blames Rudolph II for having planned to expel or murder the Jews of Prague, but historically he seems to have been quite tolerant, relatively speaking, and the Jewish population of Prague thrived under his reign.)  At any rate, Rabbi Loew took clay from the banks of the River Vltava and made the golem, who was named Josef (nickname Yossele), and in addition to being alive, some versions say he had the power of invisibility and summoning spirits from the dead.
        The punchline of the legend, however, is that eventually the golem ran out of control and went on a rampage, and Rabbi Loew had to destroy him.  There are a number of different versions of how that all went down.  According to some versions, Rabbi Loew always deactivated Yossele on Friday evenings so that he wouldn’t do work on the Sabbath - until one day when Loew forgot.  According to another version, the golem fell in love and became violent when he was rejected.  There are also a couple of versions of how the golem was destroyed: 1. He was animated by a shem placed in his mouth - the shem being one of the names of God written on a piece of paper or a clay tablet.  In order to deactivate him, the shem had to be removed.  2. He was animated by writing the Hebrew word emét (“truth”) on his forehead.  In order to destroy him, the initial e was erased, leaving the word mét (“dead”).  Why are there so many different variations?  Simply because this legend has absorbed influences from all the other golem stories in the folklore.
         So, Yossele was deactivated and fell back into a heap of clay, which was then stored in the attic of Prague’s Old New Synagogue.  The door was locked and everyone was forbidden to enter.  I saw the exterior door to the attic, and the rung ladder to reach it, but you are still forbidden to enter.  Supposedly he lies there still, King Arthur-like, ready to be brought back to life again if need arises.  Unfortunately for that theory, renovations of the building in 1883 required entering the attic, and no golem was found.  Perhaps it’s a reaction to that let-down that gives us the alternate 
version in which the golem’s remains were removed from the attic and buried in the Žižkov graveyard.  If that’s the case, then he may be gone forever, as parts of the graveyard were destroyed in 1985-92 when the crazy Žižkov Television Tower was built there during the Communist era.
        While the Golem of Prague was first mentioned in the 1830s, it very quickly spawned a variety of stories, followed by novels, and then films, and so on.  I confess that I’m not much interested in many of these - especially not those of the horror variety!  But I do find lots to mull on in the themes that swirl around the original 
mythology of golems: the power to create life and the desire to control it, puzzles of sentience and free will, golem as savior versus monster, and so on.  Therefore I was pretty excited to visit a real golem’s stomping grounds and find his traces!  And of course since I was excited about it, I’ve started work on a new block.  Specifically my design is inspired by the idea of poor Yossele waiting patiently in the attic of the Staronová synagoga.  I hope you don't have to wait too long to see it finished.

[Pictures: A golem souvenir from Prague (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

The gravestone of Judah Loew and his wife Pearl, Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague;

Title page illustration, pastel and chalk by Hugo Steiner-Prag from The Golem by Gustav Meyrink, 1916, Jewish Museum, Maisel Synagogue;

Staronová synagoga (Old New Synagogue);

Žižkov Television Tower, seen from the Klementinum Astonomy Tower;

Block in progress  (All photos except the first by AEGN).]

September 11, 2023

Vik in Prague

         While I was pulling together a collection of block prints of Prague for the previous post, I found a whole bunch by Karel Vik (Czech, 1883-1964).  In fact, he published a book of 40 views of Prague in colored woodcuts, and I spent quite a while searching the internet for as many of those wood block prints as I could find.  If you want to know a little more about Vik and his woodcuts more generally, you can read this post in which I introduced him back in 2017.  Today I’m concentrating on Prague.  I can’t find when the book was first published - I’m guessing 1930 - but since many of the prints are dated in the blocks it’s evident that Vik was working on these pieces around 1925-1927.
        Today’s first view shows Křižovnické Square, presumably from up in the tower on the Old Town end of the Charles Bridge.  I attended a concert in the church shown here.  In the background you can see the turrets of the churches and Town Hall around Old Town Square.  You’ll note pedestrians in this picture, and a cart with a pair of horses, but no cars, nor the 
tram lines, which were fully running by 1921.  Perhaps Vik used artistic license to leave them out?
        I’ve paired two scenes of Old Town Square, both crowded with people (and a few motor vehicles visible in the first).  The first shows Old Town Hall, a conglomeration of the whole row of buildings on the left, and the Týn Church on the far side of the square.  The second shows the Astronomical Clock full face, which you can see on the side of the tower in the first view.  It looks like even in 1926, the square filled up in front of the clock at the hour, with people wanting to watch the little show of circling saints and bell-ringing Death, and the grand finale, a crowing gold rooster (although those details aren’t visible in this woodcut).
        We turn next to the Charles Bridge, a medieval bridge which was later adorned with an army of massive baroque sculptures of saints.  The first picture today is almost the same view as the one by Lukavský in the previous post, but with a very different style.  The third here looks in the opposite direction, back toward Old Town.  As for the other, it’s the only one in black and white, the only one with a more detailed wood engraving style, and I think the only one that doesn’t come from the book.  It dates to several years earlier.
        Vik’s view of Prague Castle is not wildly different from many others, though it’s from a vantage point that includes fewer other landmarks in the foreground.  It also uses only neutral colors, so that it looks more like a sepia photograph than a full-color block print.
        The scene in the Wallenstein Garden also uses three blocks, but the autumnal colors are a little brighter.  You can compare this with another view of the Wallenstein Garden loggia, in the previous post.  Rohling was working at the same time as Vik, so it’s interesting to see the similarities between his style and Vik’s (especially in some of Vik’s other pieces).  In Vik’s image of Wallenstein Garden you can see the aviary to the left, with its gloopy-looking “grotto” wall.  When we visited, the aviary was inhabited by enormous owls, but I haven’t been able to find any explanation of why, or whether there have been owls in the aviary since it was built around 1630.  I’m sorry I can’t see a glimpse of an owl in this wood block print!
        Next is one of the later pieces in the series, a view looking up Mostecká street in the Malá Strana section of Prague, past the St Nicholas church.  And finally, we head back across the river to the end of Wenceslas Square in Nové Město, where the statue of St Wenceslas stands before the National Museum.  This piece definitely has the most interesting use of black and color, with the museum in the background composed only of two pale colors, while the black makes the foreground pop.
        In all of these pieces Vik seems to be using a very muted palette.  It’s possible his colors have faded and yellowed a bit, but they can never have been very intensely bright.  I wonder what prompted those choices, and whether he was actually influenced by photography.  In any case, while I might wish the colors had a bit wider spectrum, I do like these prints very much.  I enjoy the combination of the carving and composition, with the subjects, combined with the snapshot of a historical moment.


[Pictures: Křižovnické Náměstí, wood block print by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Praha, wood block print by Vik, c. 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Orloj (Astronomical Clock), wood block print by Vik, 1927 (Image from Aukro);

Karlúv Most, coloured woodcut by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Charles Bridge, wood block print by Vik, 1923 (Image from Mutual Art);

Pohled s Karlova Mostu na Staré Město, wood block print by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Pražský Hrad, wood block print by Vik, 1927 (Image from Aukro);

Valdštýnská Zahrada, wood block print by Vik, 1925 (Image from Aukro);

Chrám Sv. Mikulášena Maléstraně, wood block print by Vik, 1927 (Image from Aukro);

Národní Museum a Pomník Sv. Václava, wood block print by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro).]

September 6, 2023

Pražské Dřevoryty

         Today we’re travelling to Prague, by way of relief block prints.  As usual, I’ve found far more pieces than I can comfortably share in one post, so I’m going to split the theme into two.  In this post my focus is on pieces that show some of the iconic scenes I saw on my own recent trip to Prague, somewhere I’d been hoping to go for a long time.  (I’m also hoping to do a print or two of my own based on some of my photographs, but I don’t know when I’ll get to that.)
        First up is a color woodcut by Vladislav Rohling from about 1925.  The Wallenstein Garden is in the foreground, and behind it is the Castle up on the mount.  I can’t quite interpret how many different blocks went into this (grey, brown, beige, oranges, and greens?), but it looks like most of them were inked with a gradation of color.  I like the way all the pale colors at the top give the whole piece a look of hot autumn afternoon sun.  The use of grey at the top and brown at the bottom instead of black is very effective.
        Next are three pieces by Pavel Šimon, an artist whose work has appeared twice in this blog previously (here and here).  His three scenes all date to the middle of the 20th century when Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule, but in these pictures Prague retains a timeless feel.  Much of the medieval and baroque architecture in the center of Prague has been little changed from the nineteenth century right up until now, despite all the political upheaval.  The first piece is the view from the stairs up to the Castle, in which you can see the dome of St Nicholas Church, and the Charles Bridge with its tower on each end.  The second view is almost the reverse: from somewhere near the bridge (perhaps one of the little riverside islands?), looking back past St Nicholas, and up to St Vitus church in the Castle.  The third view is Old Town Square across the river, with the the tower of the Old Town Hall and the twin turrets of Týn church.  Šimon does a great job with the lights illuminating the city.
        Next is a woodcut of the Old Jewish Cemetery by Emil Orlik, dating from the end of the 19th century before the Nazi invasion and the extermination of most of Prague’s Jewish population.  This view doesn’t show one of the more iconically crowded sections of the cemetery in which the carved stones are really tumbled together on top of each other, but it does capture the sense of peace and solemnity here.
        Speaking of crowded, nowadays you’d be hard put to find a daytime scene of the Charles Bridge with only a few people on it, but this piece by Jaroslav Lukavský dates once again to the Communist era, so there certainly were’t crowds of tourists then.  Once again we’ve got the skyline of St Nicholas and St Vitus, but this piece adds the sculptures of Charles Bridge to the mix.  It also has a rather different style, more angular and geometric.
        The last two pieces are both from the bank of the Vltava looking up toward the Castle, but the first, by John Edgar Platt in 1928, is to the south of the Charles Bridge, while the second, by Vincent Hložník in 1961, places the viewer to the north of the bridge.  Platt’s color woodcut appears to have perhaps three different blocks, although I 
can’t tell for sure because the colors are similar and the blocks may be inked in gradations.  As for Hložník’s linocut, it’s the only one here that makes reference to anything other than the architecture.  With its raised hand and hammer and sickle, this is one of a series of block prints celebrating the Constitution of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.  And yet there’s Prague, enduring as ever despite the politics spinning around it.
        Next time I’ll have the work of a Czech artist who made dozens of portraits of Prague.

[Pictures: Untitled, color woodcut by Vladislav Rohling, c. 1925 (Image from Annex Galleries);

Steps to the Prague Castle, wood engraving by Pavel Šimon, 1951 (Image from Frederikshavn Kunstmuseum);

Evening in Mala Strana, woodcut by Šimon, c. 1952;

Old Town Square, Prague,  woodcut by Šimon, c. 1952 (Images from TFSimon);

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, woodcut by Emil Orlik, c. 1898 (Image from Annex Galleries);

Prague, woodcut by Jaroslav Lukavský, mid-20th century (Image from Auction Housing Works);

The Vltava at Prague, colour woodcut by John Edgar Platt, 1928 (Image from Department for Culture, Media & Sport);

Praha. Ústava ČSSR - 10, linocut by Vincent Hložník, 1961 (Image from web umenia).]

September 1, 2023

Fantasy Safari

         Last week I returned from a wonderful family vacation, during which of course I was on the lookout (as I always am) for mythical, magical creatures.  Today I’ll share photographs of some of the many fantasy beings I spotted during my travels.
        We begin with unicorns, that ever-popular staple of fantasy viewing.  The large sculpture is one of a pair in the Mirabell gardens in Salzburg.  The gardens were given a mythology theme in 1730, so I’m assuming that’s the date of the sculptures I’ve got here.  It's got a magnificent beard!  To contrast with the eighteenth century unicorn, I also spotted one from 1517 in a book in the Klementinum in Prague.
        The Mirabell gardens are also home to this fierce Pegasus, which features in the “Do Re Mi” song from “The Sound of Music,” which was filmed here.  (The unicorn sculptures can be glimpsed in the movie, too, on either side of the famous flight of steps in the song.)  The mane is made of layered sheets of metal, rather than a solid chunk, which strikes me as unusual, although I'm certainly no expert on eighteenth century sculpture.
        While we’re on the subject of creatures with wings, here’s a ferocious winged lion in Prague.  This one is much more recent, being unveiled in 2014 to commemorate the Czech members of the British Royal Air Force who served in the Battle of Britain during Word War II.  Some interesting features include the double (triple?) tail and the claws on the wings.
        From the winged lion it’s an easy transition to the griffins, which were all over the place.  But some particularly fine examples are this unusually smooth, long-necked pair whom I spotted at the Prunksaal in the National Library in Vienna.  That section of Baroque magnificence was completed in 1723.  Then once again I’ve got the contrast between a Baroque subspecies and a medieval subspecies.  The griffin sculpted on a terra cotta tile in Prague dates to the late 11th-early 12th century.  Its claws are especially formidable!
        A number of merpeople frolic in the seventeenth-century frescoes at the Wallenstein Palace Garden in Prague.  This one has some fun touches, such as a fistful of coral and a seashell chapeau.  I particularly like the fairy wings, and I wonder if they indicate that she’s actually a siren, a species that encompasses a good deal of confusion with both avian and piscine characteristics.  She’s also either in very shallow water, or is exceptionally buoyant - or perhaps flapping those little wings hard enough to hold her aloft out of the water.
        I spotted a flock of sixteenth-century tartolds, aka dragon shawms, at the Musiksammlung, Vienna.  Alas, I didn’t hear them singing (roaring?) but I am informed that their double-reed voices are low in tone.  I like their knotted tails, their curly tongues, and their happy grins.  They do appear to have little arms and legs held tight against their bodies, which makes them something along the lines of the dachshunds of the dragon world.  I might like to include tartolds as a new species in a story some time.
        Unlike most gargoyles, this group in Prague was perched close enough to the ground that I could get a decent sight of them.  Horns, beaks, wings… and the pigeon-discouraging spikes actually go quite well with the look.  These are very handsome beasts, and they’re lucky their gothic habitat was preserved in a building that had mostly gone baroque.
        Finally, a couple of  ghosts haunting the streets of Prague.  The most recent from 2022, is the wraith of a Ukrainian woman, and although the wire sculpture, with her vinok wreath on her head,  is intended to commemorate all the mothers who have been affected by the war in Ukraine, I can’t help seeing it as something straight out of “Ghostbusters.”  In the darkening sky of evening it definitely looks like a vengeful soul.  And speaking of tormented souls, I also spotted Il Commendatore, the demonic statue who consigns Don Giovanni to the eternal torment of hell in Mozart’s opera, which was premiered at the Estates Theatre in Prague in 1787.  This eerie sculpture from 2000 is not at all how I picture Il Commendatore (or how he was portrayed in the production 
of “Don Giovanni” that I saw some 30 years ago), but in fact it’s much cooler and more evocative, so I'm not complaining.
        Of course if you want to go on safari for mythical creatures, historical European cities are a rich hunting ground, and I was very lucky to be able to visit them with my family.  But the moral of the story is to keep your eyes open wherever you are.  You never know when you might catch a glimpse of something magical!

[Pictures: Unicorn, wood block print from Kneha lékarská by Jan Černy, 1517, in the Klementinum, Prague;

Unicorn, sculpture, c 1730, in the Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg;

Pegasus, sculpture, c 1730, in the Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg;

Winged Lion Memorial by Colin Spofforth, 2014, Prague;

Pair of Griffins, c 1723, in Prunksaal, Vienna;

Tile with a Gryphon, from St Lawrence Basilica, Vyšehrad, late 11th-early 12th century, in Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague;

Siren, fresco, 17th century, loggia of the Wallenstein Palace, Prague;

Three tartolds , German region, 16th century, in Musiksammlung, Vienna;

Gargoyles from Karolinum chapel bay window, c 1373, Prague;

Vinok by Veronika Psotková, 2022, Prague;

Il Commendatore by Anna Chromy, 2000, Prague (All photos by AEGN, 2023).]